The latest in the long line of refreshed and generally much better cars pouring out of Chrysler after its recent bankruptcy and rebirth, the new 300 is, more than ever before, one of the most significant cars the company makes. Not just because it keeps the company rolling in the full-size segment of the US market, but also because the car is going to appear all across Europe this year badged as the new Lancia Thema (other than in the UK, where it keeps the Chrysler name). So we need to take note of what we have here.
And what we have is interesting. Using the same upgraded platform that sits under the new, improved Dodge Charger, Chrysler has catapulted the 300C from being a pretend, poor man’s Bentley into a real, poor man’s Bentley. While the current car has little more than the right bone structure to pull it off, this new one has plenty of sinew to back up the promise.
Quieter than a submarine with its engines off, and with a ride quality that would make a magic carpet seem harsh, the new 300 now does luxury-car waft better than cars 10 times its price. It gets the all-new 3.6-litre 291bhp Pentastar V6 engines, retains a retuned version of the stalwart 5.7-litre 363bhp Hemi V8, and there will be a new V6 diesel option by the time it hits the UK market. Later there will be muscle-popping SRT8 versions – and perhaps even a return of the Magnum, if estate-loving Italy gets its wish – but the current engine line-up is more than adequate for now.
Likewise the interior, which is hugely – hugely – improved. A large, 8.4-inch central touchscreen acts as the main driver interface, and it’s a masterclass in functionality. No sub-menus and thousands of options, just clear, big buttons and a couple of knobs for the volume and heat. Add that to a thoughtful, considered and high-quality cabin layout and colour scheme, plus huge let’s-cross-a-continent-now seats, and you have a cool, relaxing place to watch the miles pass by.
Where it all fell apart on these US-spec models was in the steering department. Zero feel meant keeping the car moving in a straight line was a challenge, and hustling it through corners was like trying to thread a needle from 10 yards away. But that’s how they like it over there. The good news is that European versions of the 300/Thema will have completely different suspension and steering settings, more akin – and probably even tighter than – the more precise Charger, with which it shares its electro-mechanical steering system.
The other big change is to the styling. It might look broadly similar to the current car, but up close the new 300 is way sexier. There are more subtle curves, tighter shutlines, more elaborate LED lights front and back. It shares the same general look and feel, but the overall impression is of a much more premium, luxurious car.
Which it is.
We like: Superb ride quality and seclusion
We don’t like: Vague steering of US models
TopGear verdict: Rises straight out of the ghetto into the top of the mainstream.
Performance: 0–62mph in 6.0secs (est), max 116 mph (est), 18mpg
Tech: 3604cc, V6, RWD, 291bhp, 352.5Nm, 1797kg, n/a g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: Choose from one of the six grilles…
And avoid this:…just avoid the Bentley one